Better and More Enjoyable Networking

It's possible and more important than ever amid COVID-19.

Posted Jun 23, 2020

 Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

With more than 40 million Americans out of work amid the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to use that key tool to finding good work: networking.

Even before COVID-19, many employers relied heavily on referrals from trusted colleagues to avoid job applicants' rampant cheating (85% of resumes contain lies). And amid the COVID-crushed job market, candidates may be more desperate and thus additionally tempted to deceive in resumes, cover letters, and in answers to interview questions about their work and education history. So it's more important than ever that you network, so you can become a referred-in candidate.

Making networking pleasurable

If you find the networking process difficult or painful, you’ll do it too sparingly. Here are ways to make it more pleasurable:

Realize you can be yourself, yes, your best self but yourself. No need to be hypey, nor as glib as a talk show host. You can say "um, "ah," “Let me start again,” and yes, “I don’t know.” Plenty of average and yes, below-average people are employed. Even amid the pandemic, the unemployment rate is only 13% or 16%, depending on how you count. Target jobs that you’d do well and do a reasonable and persistent job of conveying that to your network, and chances are, you’ll get hired.

Prepare only moderately. Yes, have a 10- and a 30-second elevator speech and a couple of PAR stories ready, practice those a bit with a trusted friend or just by recording your answers on your phone’s voice memo/recorder app, and then just be you. If you try to be too scripted, you’ll be stilted, leaching the chemistry from your interaction and when you’re asked something unexpected, you’re more likely to get tongue-tied.

Connect in fun ways. Perhaps with a given contact, consistent with COVID restrictions, you'll want to take a hike; with another, it's better to have a drink; with another, it’s to make your ask on the phone or email. Just pick what, for the two of you, would be most pleasant.

Laugh at your flubs. Even if you practice, sometimes you’ll sound bad, even stupid. Learn and move on. There’s always someone else to contact. Beating yourself up will only make you less likely to network and less confident at it.

Remember that you’re not a beggar: You’re offering the best hours of your days doing something you’d be good at in exchange for fair compensation. Plus, after you’ve made your ask, look for a way to reciprocate: How might you be helpful to the other person? And even if you can’t be helpful now, as long as you promise yourself that when you’re well-employed, you’ll try to help others who come to you, you’re karmically fine.

Turn no's into maybes. When, as usually will be the case, the person says s/he doesn’t have a lead for you, say, “I understand. Would you mind keeping your ears open for me and if in a month, I’m still looking, would you mind if I circle back?” Most people will say yes and now you’ve recruited a scout. It’s more likely that the person would, in the next month, hear of or think of a lead for you than just in the moment you've first asked. Make 20 networking contacts all of whom said no and chances are you’ll have recruited at least a dozen scouts.

Recognize that you need only one job. Of course, most reach-outs will yield a “no.” That’s OK. Try to make the conversation pleasurable even if it goes nowhere, which, of course, makes it more likely it will go somewhere, professionally, and maybe personally. Making networking part of your life is a good way to make friends.

Expanding your network

Many people have trouble coming with more than a handful of people they think can open a job door. Some ways to expand it:

  • Volunteer at a non-profit. Getting to work with you on an ongoing basis for a cause you both believe in can motivate a person to champion you in landing a paying job. Particularly potent is to get onto a nonprofit's board of directors. Its members are especially likely to have the power to hire you or to refer you to someone who can. Of course, you may not be able to get on a large organization's board, but many small ones might consider you, especially if you know a board member.
  • Get active in a professional group: Participate in your field's online forums or get active in Meetups, even if virtually. Join your professional association's conference program committee. Its members tend to be well-employed, and in your talking with potential speakers, you have access to influential people.
  • Join an avocational group. Whether it’s knitting, motorcycle riding, or softball, get active in a group. if only virtually. A shared avocational passion can build a bond that motivates people to go to bat for you.

The takeaway

Amid the COVID economic shutdown, it’s easy to get despondent but, likely, this too shall pass. The shutdown may cause your networking to take longer to bear fruit, but if you network enjoyably, it will likely both make you a friend or two and lay the foundation for finding good work when the COVID cloud clears.

I read this aloud on YouTube.